News & Politics

First Person: Double Trouble

When I was a kid, having two first names was no big deal. Now it seems it's just not done. But I'm not giving up either one.

When you come from a large Catholic family, having a double name doesn’t seem strange.

When I was four, I asked my mother what my middle name was. She said, "Well, Mary Clare, it's Clare."

As the story goes, I burst into tears and said: "That is the stupidest thing I have ever heard! Why would you name me Mary Clare Clare Fleury?"

Other than that trauma, growing up with a double name never seemed strange. I come from a large Catholic family full of Alice Maries, Mary Ellens, and Margaret Marys. I was taught by nuns with names like Sister Rita Mary and Sister Ada Marie. I went to school with Anne Maries and Mary Catherines.

I went to college in North Carolina, at Wake Forest University. Down South, double names are ubiquitous, and a girl's name is often paired with a family or boy's name. I met an Anna Ball, a Mary Craig, an Ann Campbell, and a Mary Craven.

Many people with double names drop one of them by the end of middle school. It's similar to the way Josephs and Michaels become Joes and Mikes. I know a Mary Dorsey who became Dorsey when she started high school and a John Michael who became John.

In my case, my childhood best friend is named Mary. Even if I'd wanted to drop the Clare, I didn't have a choice.

These days, I meet few women with double names, and no one can seem to understand mine. Restaurant hostesses call out: "Mary, your table is ready!" Voice-mails, e-mails, bills, and letters are all addressed to Mary.

I know people don't mean anything by it, but my name is my identity. I'm sometimes tempted to ignore someone who addresses me with only half of it. I feel like saying, "I'm sorry–I didn't know you were talking to me."

Last year, I was watching TV with a friend when a Gap commercial starring Sarah Jessica Parker came on. My friend said, "I hate when people have two names. Sarah. Jessica. Parker. It's such a mouthful. Why doesn't she just pick one?"

I waited until she realized what she had said. She tried to recover by saying: "Oh, but Mary Clare flows so much better than Sarah Jessica. It almost sounds like one name!"

I've acquired some nicknames. My younger brother calls me Clarey Mare. Probably more of my friends call me MC than my real name.

In fourth grade, during the height of rapper MC Hammer's popularity, my basketball coach started calling me Hammer. He and my former teammates call me that to this day.

When I was a freshman in high school, McDonald's introduced its ice-cream shake, the McFlurry. The nickname caught on quickly because it incorporated both my first and last names. Thankfully, I haven't been called McFlurry in years, but I still have an apron inscribed with the logo, taken for me from the McDonald's in Mazza Gallerie.

Despite the nicknames and misunderstandings, I enjoy having an unusual name. Even though correcting people can be frustrating, it's worth it when someone says, "Mary Clare–wow, what a beautiful name."

I have to agree.